The importance of choosing the right storage solution in creating an exceptional digital experience

The rush to create new content will inevitably lead to a rethink on how to store and deliver it.

Watching video online is no longer the future – it’s here today. Viewing habits have shifted, with millennials in particular having dramatically changed from their parent’s generation. Younger viewers are much more likely to access video content online and exceed the average time spent watching videos each week. It’s not just millennials who watch video online, though. Increasing numbers of people from all age groups are cutting the cord with traditional platforms, seeking instead to enjoy TV online. Because of this, broadcasters including Netflix and BBC are rushing to spend money on digital content in a bid to satisfy their growing audiences.  

Content is the foundation of any business’ digital presence and getting it right is undoubtedly key to keeping audiences engaged. Simply creating good content is not enough. To deliver a great user experience organisations need to make sure that customers are able to access content quickly. Video buffering remains the top frustration with online video viewing, with almost half of online viewers abandoning a video if it stops playing to re-buffer more than twice (source: The State of Online Video).

However, the rush to create new content will inevitably lead to a rethink on how to store and deliver it. Working with a large amount of data presents a huge challenge for content providers. They need to invest in their infrastructure to ensure that they can predict and manage surges in demand for their services. Broadcasters are all keenly aware that today, success hinges on their ability to deliver online video reliably and consistently. Whether they are live streaming sports events, conferences or corporate media presentations, failure is simply not an option. It’s not just broadcasters, though – retailers also face a number of challenges, most notably the pressure of huge spikes in traffic at key points in the year. Managing these spikes effectively is paramount – the shopper’s experience can have a massive impact on a firm’s profitability. The principal difficulty lies in the massive growth in worldwide traffic and content and the increased number of devices that are used to view multimedia content. A study conducted by Gomez revealed that, unsurprisingly, 88 per cent of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience. A lot of traditional onsite or cloud storage systems can have slow response times, subsequently leading to a poor user experience that can increase churn. Even small delays can reduce site traffic significantly over time.

Broadcasters, retailers and digital marketers alike all need to consider the importance of storage when tackling the issues outlined above. This is where content delivery networks (CDNs) go to retrieve files that aren’t in the cache. But when the storage system used is in a centralised location and outside of the network, it can cause a significant amount of latency. 

Ensure high availability - everywhere

Each time a user requests content that isn’t within the CDN, it is automatically retrieved from storage. Companies delivering content should use a system that, after retrieving the content, also replicates it for future requests, so that content closest to the audience will be automatically located. This will allow users access to the fastest site and provide protection from spikes in demand, no matter where or when they occur. This reduces the risk of content being unavailable, ensuring the customer has a consistently good experience – regardless of where they are accessing content from. 

An additional feature that should be on every content provider’s checklist when looking for a storage solution is the ability to upload content from locations worldwide, using a flexible API that can support multi-part uploads, high speed data transfer and legacy protocols including FTP, SCP, SFTP, RSYNC and FTP-SSL.

Reduce operational costs

Not only can the right storage solution help organisations to ensure their content is available everywhere and can be delivered smoothly and rapidly, it can also help to reduce the operational costs associated with managing a content library – meaning that businesses can make sure their customers are happy, while making cost savings. Ideally, they should look for a time-responsive system that is able to migrate content automatically, based on audience demand or on a manifest. As well as reducing operational costs associated with a change in infrastructure, self-managing storage solutions help businesses overcome the commonly-cited challenge of a shortage of skilled technology talent (source: Gartner). This is because it enables them to reduce their reliance on storage experts and external management tools.

High-speed retrieval

Broadcasters and streaming services, like the BBC and Netflix, are rushing to spend money on digital content in a bid to satisfy the growing appetite for good quality original drama. For large players, this demand is not only year-round, it is also global – and this puts them under significant pressure to ensure that users everywhere get a great experience, whether they are watching from India or France. Wherever they are in the world, speed is an essential criterion to meet to ensure customers get a great experience. Users don’t just want things to happen fast – they want things to happen immediately. As a result, digital content must be delivered with broadcast quality — websites must load instantaneously and videos must start playing with no perceptible delay or annoying buffering. In other words, it is imperative that every part of the digital experience works flawlessly. 

It is crucial to deliver an excellent customer experience every time, for every piece of content, to every user location. A business has just a few milliseconds to engage visitors to their website with content, great images, and useful information. If they fail to do this, users may go elsewhere – and the chances are, they’ll end up being driven to competitors’ websites. Gomez found that during peak traffic times, more than 75 per cent of online consumers left for a rival’s site rather than suffer delays.

Security, availability and durability

Businesses should look for storage systems that offer security, specifically, security against the new breed of distributed cyber threats. Ideally, content should be stored within a distributed infrastructure that can absorb attacks across a large defence surface, as well as improve availability and durability. Protecting data from cyber-attacks is vital to prevent loss of content and the potential reputational damage that may result. 

Additionally, a storage system should offer exceptional multi-CDN performance, capable of delivering a fast and reliable user experience in every region and able to serve as the primary or backup storage for any CDN, irrespective of the size or location of the content library.

Rethinking content storage and infrastructure

Organisations must recognise the vital role that storage placement plays in digital experience and find solutions that address the short-comings of general-purpose cloud storage systems that create an underwhelming user experience. They need a system that can accommodate their growing supply of digital content, regardless of the type of file, with an architecture that can support both small files and, crucially, large files. The latter comprise most content today such as video, software and games. Bob Lento, CEO of Limelight, says that video viewing experience is critical for users and as such is one of the key drivers in driving success. He explains that video content is driving global internet traffic growth. And while it’s not the most expensive piece of the business model, video delivery is becoming one of the most important factors in determining success and failure.

As investment in digital content continues to soar in response to the ever-growing rise in online video viewership, broadcasters are under increasing pressure to deliver a customer experience that rivals that of traditional platforms. The importance of selecting the correct storage solution must not be overlooked if they aim to deliver an exceptional digital experience. 

Jonathan Smith, Managing Director EMEA, Limelight Networks
Image source: Shutterstock/Scanrail1